note (1)Is a good idea for teams to work on more than one project at once?  The logic leading up to the question usually begins with a statement like, “Our team is 15% on project A, 40% percent on project B and 45% on project C.  Being fully loaded makes us more productive, right?” Before I answer I generally have to take a deep breath, otherwise I tend to build up quite a head of steam. The simple and easily provable answer is no (the Multitasking Name Game drives the point home nicely). I am sure there are special circumstances where the answer is yes, however I have never seen that circumstance in the workplace.  Multitasking, switching costs and potential bottlenecks will all conspire to make this behavior inefficient and probably ineffective.  The problem is that both individuals and teams conflate the idea of being really busy with being highly productive.

Focused, dedicated teams generally reflect the following attributes:

  • They have a common goal that provides direction.
  • They tend have fewer cross purpose conflicts resulting from deciding which project is more important at any point in time when bottlenecks occur.
  • They can plan their work more easily, which reduces project multitasking. This, in tern, will yield an increase flow of work through the team.
  • They tend to be more efficient due to less switching between tasks to support multiple projects.

Much of the benefit of single threading projects comes from the efficiency gains generated by planning and organizing the work so that team members are effectively utilized and work flows through the process without stopping. Multitasking at either an individual or team level reduces efficiency.  Focusing on one goal at time is significantly more efficient, however it does effort for planning. Here again, focusing on one project at a time reduces the overhead of planning.

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